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Rockler's Complete Cabinet Hinge Guide - Choosing Hinges

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The Rockler Cabinet Hinge Guide

Choosing Hinges - Easy Installation and Adjustability Make All the Difference

What are the most important points to consider when you're choosing a cabinet hinge? Cost and appearance, of course, and whether the hinge was designed for the application you have in mind. it's also worth considering how difficult the hinge you intend to use is to install, and whether it is adjustable. Cabinet hinges vary widely on both counts, and both can make a huge difference in how long a project takes, and how happy you'll be with the results.

Hinge Adjustability

Choosing a cabinet hinge can be easily adjusted is one of the best ways to speed the installation process and ensure professional looking results. Adjustable hinges give you valuable "wiggle room" during the installation process and let you fine tune the the final look of your cabinet doors. A cabinet hinge is adjustable if it allows for minor corrections in cabinet-to-door alignment in one or more of three possible directions: Height adjustment positions the door vertically. Side-to-Side adjustment positions the door horizontally. Depth adjustment positions the door in relation to the front surface of the cabinet. Many (but not all) cabinet hinges are "adjustable" in at least one direction. With most, adjustability simply means that some of the screw holes are oblate (oblong) instead of round, allowing for slight adjustments in the position of the door before the screws are tightened down. The "no mortise" hinges you see here are designed for inset cabinet doors. The oblong screw holes on the hinge leaves allow for adjustment of both height and depth. Initially, the installer only needs to locate the hinge close to the ideal height and depth; the door's final position can be adjusted before tightening the screws. The round screw hole on the hinge's larger leaf is used to "lock" the hinge at the correct height.

European Hinges - Adjustability Made Easy

Along with being one of the easiest to install and most sturdy cabinet hinges, European concealed hinges offer the best adjustment features. Most European concealed hinges can be adjusted in at least two directions, and many can be adjusted in all three. European hinges use a more sophisticated adjustment mechanism than most other hinges. Typically, cam screws located on the hinge arm and/or base plate allow for fine adjustments to the door's position with a turn of a screwdriver. Blum Clip Top Hinges are an example of a "3-way" adjustable hinge. Clip Top hinges are available for a variety of applications, including frameless and face frame cabinets, and can be adjusted from side-to-side, for height, and for depth. The ease of installation, exceptional adjustability, and the fact that the hinge arm clips onto the base plate for fast, tool-free door mounting and de-mounting, make Blum Clip Top Hinges the top choice for new cabinetry. Blum Compact 2-Way Hinges are alternative for especially budget conscious projects. Blum two way hinges offer the same easy installation and durability as Clip Top Hinges, and adjust just as easily for height and from side to side. Blum Compact hinges are available for face frame cabinets with overlay doors ranging from 3/8" to 1-3/8" overlay dimensions.

Mortise Hinges and Adjustability

image of ball finial butt hinge A mortise hinge is any hinge that fits into a specially shaped rebate in the cabinet and/or cabinet door, and are seldom adjustable. Butt hinges - the most familiar type of hinge - are an example. In most cases, butt hinges are fitted into a rectangular mortise in the cabinet, the cabinet door or both. Since the mortise is cut to fit the hinge leaf exactly, it essentially controls the final position of the hinge. The same holds for other types of mortise hinges including Soss, Barrel, and knife hinges. Special care to accurately position mortise hinges is necessary to ensure that the cabinet door will function correctly and have a good appearance.

How Difficult is the hinge to install?

Installing cabinet doors involves more than quickly screwing a few hinges in place. Depending on the type of hinge you choose, finishing with doors that appear level and aligned with the cabinet opening can require very exacting work. Below, we'll look at a few of the most common cabinet hinges, and how difficult each is to install.

Installing European Hinges

image of Jit It for concealed hinges There's more than one reason why European concealed hinges are the most popular type of cabinet hinge among hobbyists and cabinet manufacturers alike. Not only does their exceptional adjustability make them the most forgiving hinge for the installer, the installation process itself is exceptionally easy - provided you have a few affordable specialized tools. European hinges require a specially sized hole in the cabinet door to house the hinge "cup". While the size and placement of the hinge cup hole is important, once the hole is bored, it is nearly impossible to install the hinge incorrectly. A cup hole drilling jig, like Rockler's Jig-It for Concealed Hinges, makes positioning and drilling the hinge cup hole virtually foolproof.

Overlay and No Mortise Hinges

image of variable overlay hinge Overlay and no-mortise hinges both mount to the surface of the cabinet cabinet and cabinet door, making them easier to install than mortise hinges. For the installer, the main challenge is getting the screw holes pre-drilled in the correct position. As mentioned above, some overlay and no-mortise hinges have oblate screw hole on one or both leaves, an adjustability feature that makes the position of the screw holes less crucial.

Butt and Knife Hinges

Butt and knife hinges are among the most difficult hinges to install. For both, an accurately cut mortise is crucial. Along with that, butt and knife hinges are not usually adjustable once they are installed, meaning that the placement of the hinge mortise and the screw holes must correspond almost perfectly for the hinge function well and fit neatly in the mortise. Further, if both the cabinet and cabinet door are to be mortised, the mortises and screw holes must also correspond from hinge to hinge. And getting it right the first time is important - once the mortise and screw holes are established, correcting them is very difficult. Still, knife and butt hinges have their place - usually when matching existing hardware, or where an especially refined or traditional appearance is desired. If you are new to installing these types of hinge, we recommend using them for a small project - one or two cabinets - at the beginning. You may also want to practise cutting mortises before attempting the procedure on a highly valued project. There are a few tools that can help the process go smoothly, too. For more on installing hinges, various types of hinges, see Hinge Installation Tips.

Soss and Barrel Hinges

image of soss concealed hinge Soss and barrel hinges fit into a deep mortise in the edge of the door and the cabinet face frame. Soss hinges fit into a specially shaped mortise, which must be accurately positioned and cut for the hinge to function correctly, making them one of the more difficulty hinges to install. Using handheld router along with the specially designed Soss Routing Jig is highly recommended for installing Soss hinges. Barrel hinges are similar in design to Soss hinges, but are easier to install because they fit into a cylindrical mortise, which can be drilled with an ordinary drill bit. With both Soss and barrel hinges, the emphasis is on accurate placement of the hinge mortise, since neither can be adjusted once they are installed.